No, this castle was not built with the Moon attached. To create the spectacular juxtaposition, careful planning and a bit of good weather was needed. Pictured, the last supermoon of 2016 was captured last week rising directly beyond one of the towers of Bellver Castle in Palma de Mallorca on the Balearic Islands of Spain. The supermoon was the last full moon of 2016 and known to some as the Oak Moon. Bellver Castle was built in the early 1300s and has served as a home — but occasional as a prison — to numerous kings and queens. The Moon was built about 4.5 billion years ago, possibly resulting from a great collision with a Mars-sized celestial body and Earth. The next supermoon, defined as when the moon appears slightly larger and brighter than usual, will occur on 2017 December 3 and be visible not only behind castles but all over the Earth.
To some, it looks like the wheel of a cart. In fact, because of its outward oval appearance, the presence of a central galaxy, and their connection with what looks like the spokes of a wheel, the galaxy on the right is known as the Cartwheel Galaxy. To others, however, it looks like a complicated interaction between galaxies awaiting explanation. Along with the two galaxies on the left, the Cartwheel is part of a group of galaxies about 400 million light years away in the constellation Sculptor. The large galaxy’s rim spans over 100,000 light years and is composed of star forming regions filled with extremely bright and massive stars. Pictured, the Cartwheel’s ring-like shape is the result of gravitational disruption caused by a smaller galaxy passing through a large one, compressing the interstellar gas and dust and causing a star formation wave to move out like a ripple across the surface of a pond.
Southern Jupiter looms some 37,000 kilometers away in this JunoCam image from December 11. The image data was captured near Juno’s third perijove or closest approach to Jupiter, the spacecraft still in its 53 day long looping orbit. With the south polar region on the left, the large whitish oval toward the right is massive, counterclockwise rotating storm system. Smaller than the more famous Great Red Spot, the oval storm is only about half the diameter of planet Earth, one of a string of white ovals currently in the southern hemisphere of the Solar System’s, ruling gas giant.
This broad, beautiful mosaic spans almost 20 degrees across planet Earth’s sky. The nebula-rich region lies near the edge of the Orion-Eridanus superbubble, filled with looping, expanding shells of gas and dust embedded in molecular clouds near the plane of the Milky Way Galaxy. Recognizable at the left is the expansive Seagull Nebula, composed of emission nebula NGC 2327, seen as the seagull’s head, with the more diffuse IC 2177 as the wings and body. Some 3,800 light-years away, the wings of the Seagull Nebula spread about 240 light-years, still within our local spiral arm. The bluish light of Sirius, alpha star of Canis Major and brightest star in the night, easily dominates the scene at right but shines from a distance of only 8.6 light-years. Study the big picture and you should also be rewarded with star cluster Messier 41, also known as NGC 2287, not to mention the mighty Thor’s Helmet.
Stars are battling gas and dust in the Lagoon Nebula but the photographers are winning. Also known as M8, this photogenic nebula is visible even without binoculars towards the constellation of Sagittarius. The energetic processes of star formation create not only the colors but the chaos. The red-glowing gas results from high-energy starlight striking interstellar hydrogen gas. The dark dust filaments that lace M8 were created in the atmospheres of cool giant stars and in the debris from supernovae explosions. The light from M8 we see today left about 5,000 years ago. Light takes about 50 years to cross this section of M8. Data used to compose this image was taken with the wide-field camera OmegaCam of the ESO‘s VLT Survey Telescope (VST).
On some nights it rains meteors. Peaking over the next two nights, asteroid dust is expected to rain down on Earth during the annual Geminids meteor shower. This year, unfortunately, fainter Geminids will be harder to see because of the brightness of the Long Nights Full Moon, which occurs Wednesday. Pictured, an image from this year’s Perseids meteor shower in August captured multiple streaks over Four Girls Mountain in central China. The bright Pleaides open star cluster appears toward the upper right, while numerous emission nebulas are visible in red, many superposed on the diagonal band of the Milky Way.
What created the strange spiral structure on the left? No one is sure, although it is likely related to a star in a binary star system entering the planetary nebula phase, when its outer atmosphere is ejected. The huge spiral spans about a third of a light year across and, winding four or five complete turns, has a regularity that is without precedent. Given the expansion rate of the spiral gas, a new layer must appear about every 800 years, a close match to the time it takes for the two stars to orbit each other. The star system that created it is most commonly known as LL Pegasi, but also AFGL 3068. The unusual structure itself has been cataloged as IRAS 23166+1655. The featured image was taken in near-infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Why the spiral glows is itself a mystery, with a leading hypothesis being illumination by light reflected from nearby stars.